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Stress is as unhealthy as eating junk food, scientists say


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We all know that eating too much junk food isn’t good for our bodies, but scientists say stress can be equally harmful when it comes to the digestive system.

Research conducted on mice has shown that when exposed to stress, the microorganisms in the gut can change to look like they are exposed to a high-fat diet.

Scientists from Brigham Young University in the US and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China put a large group of mice on a high-fat diet. The selection included both male and female mice.

The mice were then exposed to mild levels of stress for 18 days.

Lab mouse.
Scientists conducted tests on mice (JacobStudio/Getty Images)

The researchers analysed the gut microbes before and after the stress by extracting microbial DNA from fecal pellets.

They found that female mice responded differently to stress than their male counterparts.

They also noted that male mice showed more anxiety than females and decreased activity in response to stress.

But in the case of female mice, stress caused the gut microbiota composition to shift as if the animals were on a high-fat diet.

“Stress can be harmful in a lot of ways, but this research is novel in that it ties stress to female-specific changes in the gut microbiota,” study author Laura Bridgewater said.

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The researchers found stress could be as bad for the digestive system as junk food (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“We sometimes think of stress as a purely psychological phenomenon, but it causes distinct physical changes.”

While the study was only carried out on animals, researchers believe it could have implications for human diet and lifestyle as well.

“In society, women tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety, which are linked to stress,” Bridgewater added.

“This study suggests that a possible source of the gender discrepancy may be the different ways gut microbiota responds to stress in males vs females.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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